Enough is enough for underachieving Bangladesh
Spend a day in the streets and restaurants of the teeming cities of Dhaka and Kolkata and you will find out how passionate Bengalis are. Passion is Bengal. Bengal is passion. Throughout history, the land has been at the forefront of revolution, be it nationalistic, linguistic, intellectual. It is time for another revolution to happen in Bangladesh. Of the cricketing kind.
It is time for Bangladeshis to say enough is enough. It is time for them to demand higher standards of a team that has mostly let them down, again and again and again. It is time for them to stop being satisfied with heroic individual performances from Shakib Al Hasan. It is time for them to stop celebrating a rare win over a top side like they have won the World Cup.
Bangladeshis are fanatical in their love for the game. Just as man has to breathe air to survive, whether it is stale or fresh air, so do Bangladeshis support their cricket team, whether it does well or not. Most of the times, it gets thrashed. But Bangladeshis' support for their "Tigers" does not waver an inch. They have been stoical as long as Bangladesh have been on the international scene. On the very rare occasion, their suppressed pain bursts through, as it did when Bangladesh were dismissed for 58 against West Indies in the 2011 World Cup on home turf in Mirpur. But on the whole, they have celebrated every small achievement. Small is what they have been afforded by their hopelessly underachieving team.
The cricketing reasons can be repeated endlessly. Lack of quality fast bowlers, over-reliance on one brand of spin, talented but unreliable batsmen, poor fielding. In the end, it must come down to that one word. Belief. To an outsider, do Bangladesh believe they can be world beaters? No. Do Bangladesh fans believe they can be world beaters? No. Do Bangladesh media believe they can be world beaters? No.
It is revealing to watch the reactions of the majority of Bangladesh media during a game. They are the rare breed in a press box who will clap and cheer every Bangladesh boundary, inside-edged or not, and every opposition wicket, earned or not. But it appears that deep down, they know that their team is not going to defeat a top side like say, Pakistan today.
There is another revealing factor. You can make out from the demeanour of the majority of the Bangladesh players and media that they feel they are from Bangladesh and the rest are from the top teams. This feeling of inferiority - to call a spade a spade - manifests itself in misplaced aggression in the comments section of ESPNcricinfo articles from Bangladesh fans. It manifests itself in Mushfiqur Rahim saying before the Pakistan game that Bangladesh have nothing to lose. Nothing to lose? There was a damn world event to be won for heaven's sake. Bangladesh had a chance, an outside chance albeit, of making the Super Eights, but it was still within their control. And yet again, they couldn't control their destiny.
Fight they did, but only with the bat. Even then, they made some basic errors that showed their tendency to lose their heads precisely when they don't need to. Shakib had taken Sohail Tanvir for three consecutive boundaries. There was really no pressing requirement for a tight single off the next ball. The result was that a batsman in full flow, Tamim Iqbal, was needlessly run out.
With Shakib hitting boundaries at will, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah needed to ensure Shakib had most of the strike. Instead, they perished trying to hit big shots. Mushfiqur after being dropped, Mahmudullah off his very second ball.
Bangladesh's approach with the ball betrayed complete lack of awareness. Having watched a quality fast bowler like Umar Gul being carted for 43 runs in three overs due to his overuse of the short ball, they came out and proceeded to dish out the same stuff to Imran Nazir and Mohammad Hafeez. Mushfiqur later said they had used the short ball because subcontinent batsmen are weak against it. This after their own batsmen, also from the subcontinent, had taken Gul and his bouncers apart.
Saqlain Mushtaq, the former Pakistan offspinner and Bangladesh spin bowling consultant, said a couple of days earlier that Bangladesh had the potential to beat any side in the world if they played to their potential. Just how do they begin to play to potential more often than once in a blue moon? Just how do they develop that belief that they can defeat top sides consistently?
They can have all the coaches and consultants and support staff they want. But perhaps, it has to start from the leadership. Tiger Pataudi led an Indian team handicapped by their inferiority complex against sides like England and Australia. He got them to shed that complex and taught them how to win. Fourteen years after Sri Lanka played their first Test, Arjuna Ranatunga, combative and capable, led them to a World Cup triumph.
Where is Bangladesh's Pataudi or Ranatunga? Mushfiqur is a skilled, fearless and earnest young man. He would have made a fine head boy at school. Shakib is the incomparable genius in a side where nobody can hope to even come close to him. Tamim has the swagger of a man who can do things with the bat others in the side can only dream of. But can any one of these three be that inspirational leader, one whose presence and personality can shake Bangladesh out of their prolonged acceptance of low standards? Their fans can attempt to find out by raising their own standards.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo